Lawyer Diaries: SEC Chairman

The following Lawyer Diary comes in the form of an interview with David S. Ruder. He's a former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. This interview is excerpted from Learning From Precedent.

David S. Ruder

David Ruder is a former Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He is a graduate of Williams College (1951) and received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School (1957). He is Professor Emeritus and a former Dean at Northwestern University School of Law, founding chairman of the Securities and Exchange Historical Society, founding chairman of the Mutual Fund Directors Forum, and former partner and senior counsel at Baker & McKenzie.

Bloch: Where did you grow up?

Ruder: I grew up in a town called Wausau, Wisconsin. It was a small town of about 25,000 to 30,000 at that time. I went to Wausau High School, then to Williams College.

Bloch: What did you study at Williams?

Ruder: I was in the first Williams class that had a major in something called Political Economy. It was a combination major of Political Science and Economics. I actually started out as an Economics major, but I didn’t have enough math background so I had to find something else. We had wonderful professors in the Political Science department, and wonderful professors in the Economics department, so I had very good training.

Bloch: Did you pick your major at Williams knowing that you wanted to go to law school?

Ruder: I wasn’t set on becoming a lawyer when I went to Williams. I was taking whatever courses interested me. There was no thought of Economics or Political Science being something that would help me in law school. I just liked the subjects.

Bloch: So when did your interest in law first develop?

Ruder: My father was a lawyer in Wausau, so I always knew about law and decided to go into it after having served in the Korean War.

Bloch: And why corporate law?

Ruder: Specifically, my interest in corporate and securities law started when I went to practice law in Milwaukee after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in ‘57. I was assigned a number of matters that spurred my interest, including one case that dealt with a rule of the Securities and Exchange Commission. When I went into law teaching, I continued my interest in corporate and securities matters.

Bloch: How would you summarize your experience in law school?

Ruder: I liked law school a lot, especially the experience of learning. I worked hard and was a very good student, and ended up graduating first in my law school class.

Law school was very good preparation for law practice. I took a wide variety of courses, in addition to six semesters of accounting while simultaneously attending law school. I accomplished that by going to summer school between my first and second years so I could pick up additional law school credits. I think the important part of going to law school, as well as college, is that you can get a broad background of courses that give you knowledge about life.

Bloch: Would you advise taking business law courses to anyone interested in corporate law?

Ruder: My main advice to a student who might become a corporate lawyer is to take a number of writing courses. Writing is key to the legal profession. In addition, I would advise taking courses in accounting, mathematics, and statistics. I did not come out of law school with a very strong mathematical background, but I would certainly suggest that someone thinking about a successful business career would be quite well off to have taken a fair dose of mathematics.

Bloch: What was the toughest part of your law school experience?

Ruder: Law school seemed natural to me. I think I had an advantage over my fellow students since I had spent three years in the service after graduating from Williams before entering law school.

I went through army basic training, and then through Officer Candidate School. It was in the army, particularly in basic training, that I learned there are lots of people in life who work with their hands, not their minds, and who don’t understand the intellectual world. So I decided that when I got to law school, I was really going to work hard. I think that my attitude going into law school was a reflection of the maturity that came with having had three years away from undergraduate work before law school.

At Northwestern Law, where I’m currently Professor Emeritus, we have changed our admission requirements to reflect a preference for those who have had work experience. Today, over 90% of our students have had one or more years of work experience after college. Many students have had as many as three years of work experience. Most people are in a learning environment with no break from the time they start first grade until they finish college. They don’t get an out-of-school experience to measure themselves by, which is invaluable.

I really think that I did well in law school because I was more emotionally mature and understanding of the need to work hard. I had the intellectual smarts to go with my work ethic, but I believe that my main success in life comes from being a hard worker, more so than being smart.

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